Law Office of Tim Powers
INDIANAPOLIS | Former Gov. Mitch Daniels may have been the loudest voice
calling for the type of criminal sentencing reform legislation that was
approved by a state House committee last week, but it was his sister,
Deborah Daniels, a former U.S. attorney and U.S. assistant attorney general,
who led the effort to make it happen.
For the past five years, Deborah Daniels headed a seven-attorney work group
within the state's Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, which the
General Assembly established in 2009 after an independent study by the
Pew Center on the States found Indiana had one of the fastest-growing
— and costliest — prison populations in the nation.
The 17-member bipartisan commission was tasked with reviewing Indiana's
criminal laws and recommending changes if the commission determined reform
Daniels, now a partner at the Indianapolis law firm of Krieg DeVault, said
she took up that charge in the broadest possible way, working with representatives
of the Indiana Judicial Center, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council,
Indiana Public Defender Council and other Hoosier lawyers during more
than 1,000 hours to compile a 365-page analysis of Indiana's criminal
law, which is Title 35 of the Indiana Code.
"We literally walked through Title 35 from beginning to end,"
She said the group's proposed changes to Indiana's criminal law
were based on the need to reserve prison for the most serious offenders,
ensure proportional penalties for different crimes, like sentences for
like crimes and to increase certainty regarding the length of prison sentences.
"There had been a lot of information over the years about how difficult
it is for victims of crimes to know with any great certainty, what does
this sentence mean?," Daniels said.
The work group also sought to streamline the criminal code, which has not
been completely updated since 1977, after discovering lawmakers had created
new crimes and harsh penalties in response to public outrage over specific
incidents that were out of proportion to existing crimes and prison terms, she said.
"The most important thing really was the proportionality review,"
Daniels said. "There had been a lot of additions, some of which overlapped."
House Bill 1006, co-sponsored by state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, is
a complete reworking of Indiana's criminal code that follows the recommendations
of Daniels' commission work group.
It expands the state's current four levels of felonies to six, requires
convicts serve at least 75 percent of their prison terms and permits low-level
offenders to serve their time in county jails or under intensive supervision
in a community corrections program.
The House committee on courts and the criminal code unanimously approved
the legislation Wednesday. It now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee
for a review of its yet-to-be-determined cost.
Daniels' decision to bring in prosecutors and public defenders to help
shape the commission's product paid off during last week's committee
hearing as natural enemies found themselves grudging partners in the sentencing
David Powell, of the prosecutors council, and Larry Landis, of the public
defender council, each said there were still pieces of the proposal they'd
like to see changed. But both agreed the legislation is worthy of advancing.
That was a big difference from 2011 when Gov. Daniels' initial sentencing
reform proposal, intended to save Indiana money by reducing prison costs,
got hijacked by prosecutors in a legislative committee and rewritten in
a way that would have locked up even more Hoosiers and sent prison costs
through the roof.
The Indiana Department of Correction had 28,247 felons locked up in November,
the most recent month for which statistics are available. That's just
4 percent below full capacity.
Since 2000, the state's prison population has increased approximately
40 percent, despite an overall drop in crime. A total of 14,054 Hoosiers
were sent to prison last year.
Relative to their populations, Lake and Porter counties send comparatively
few people to prison. In 2012, Lake County sent 429 felons to the Department
of Correction; Porter County just 45.
Marion County (Indianapolis) led the state, sending 3,390 people to prison
last year. Other top counties included Allen (Fort Wayne) 951; Madison
(Anderson) 579; Hamilton (Fishers, Carmel) 533; Vanderburgh (Evansville)
438; and St. Joseph (South Bend) 424.
Indiana spent an average of $720 million a year on prisons during the 2012
and 2013 budget years.
That's more than half of the state's annual public safety budget
and about 3 percent of total state spending.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced
criminal defense attorney for your Denton County criminal case or arrest
in Denton County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There is no
charge or obligation for the initial consultation. 940.580.2899.
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court
of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For
legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult
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